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The Word on the Week

Cheltenham 2013

The annual migration from Ireland to that famous horse racing track in the Cotswolds is gearing up to go as next week is the Festival. Such is the Irish input that the third of the four days of racing is named after St Patrick our patron Saint!

The 27 races are run over the four days. Part of the attraction is the prize money which, this year is £3.76 million. This goes some way to explain the attraction it has for members of our government who travel there no doubt with the intention of reducing our budget deficit!

My first exposure to the races arose many years ago when a somewhat sleepy colleague transformed himself into a smartly dressed racegoer replete with a very large pair of binoculars and took himself off to Cheltenham. This change, I was informed, happened every year as the magnetism of the festival proved irresistible.

The recession has had the effect of reducing the numbers of punters but not the number of horses. There is a record entry with no less than 600 making the journey from Ireland.

The actual amount of money bet on the horses gets harder to calculate as online betting now rivals on course betting. Taxing these considerable sums has proved to be difficult but ways have been found to ensure that whatever the fate of the Bookmaker or Punter the Government always wins!

What would the Bible have to say to such matters?

Quite a lot as festivals formed the framework of the religious year. They were joyous occasions celebrating such things as harvest and bringing to recall the goodness of God in providing for them in the wilderness.

Perhaps the best known festival is the Passover as it was the precursor of the Communion in the New Testament. It was designed to enable the worshipper to remember what the Lord had done in delivering his people from bondage in Egypt. It entailed the sacrifice of a lamb the blood of which was applied to the doorposts and lintel of the house. Those in the house were protected when the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn struck the land (Exodus chapter 12 verse 29).

The plague passed over those sheltering under the blood.

This act of salvation for God’s people foreshadowed the death of Jesus Christ for sinners. He was the sacrificial lamb that was promised of which the lambs in Egypt were a foretaste. He died so that those trusting in the efficacy of his sacrifice would receive eternal life. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” was how St John put it in his Gospel.

Unlike Cheltenham this gift comes without money and does not rely on chance. It relies on the promise of God to hear the cry of repentant sinners and as St John writes about Jesus, “ All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out”.